Timothy Graves’ memoir update and the ESP connection

‘I can see angels standing around you.

They shimmer like mirrors in Summer.

But you don’t know it.’ (‘Among Angels’, Kate Bush)

I have decided not to post anymore excerpts from my forthcoming memoir for the foreseeable future. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that each excerpt is just a first draft which will require judicious editing. In addition, I feel that by posting too many passages, I’m just giving too much away too soon! However, I appreciate everyone’s interest, and will instead be updating viewers to this website with regular news regarding the general development of my memoir – which will be my third book.

For me, the completion of this book will represent the completion of a particular cycle in my life. And even though Homo Jihad and Pharmakeia are vastly different, both in style and content, I think when read in conjunction with my memoir, many will consider them, in some respects, to form a trilogy. At the heart of both novels and the current memoir is a conflict or battle between the forces of light and dark, good and evil. This may sound a tad old-fashioned to some but being human does not allow one to escape the ethical/moral dimension of life. And neither does being a writer. As Susan Sontag, American writer, film-maker and political activist, writes,  ‘Obviously, I think of the writer of novels and plays as a moral agent…This doesn’t entail moralizing in any direct or crude sense.’

So far, the word count of the memoir stands at over 64,000 words ( 200+ pages). Both Homo Jihad and Pharmakeia came in at between around 70,000 and 80,000 words in total so I definitely feel I am on the home straight!  For me, this means, by hook or crook, it will be published. And hopefully sooner rather than later. I am aware that it was a good five years between my debut novel and Pharmakeia being published. But hey, it was not always easy to balance working full-time with my passion for writing.

So what’s new? Well, the working title is evolving. I had previously called it ‘Love’ and then inclined towards a title that included the word ‘metanoia’. What’s with all the foreign words in the titles of my books, I hear you ask. (Jihad, Pharmakeia, metanoia) Living in London, I have always been open to different languages and cultures. And sometimes, a word in another language just clinches it in a way that a similar word in one’s home language does not. ‘Metanoia’ is a wonderfully positive word. It means ‘change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion’. Having said all this, it’s quite possible this working title may develop or change in the future. I worked through several working titles when writing both Homo Jihad and Pharmakeia. In previous incarnations, Pharmakeia was called Notoriety, Human Demon,and The Butterfly Net. And I do remember Homo Jihad was initially called The Shield For Seven Angels. (Far too fantasy genre!) But still – for me, a working title is an interesting concept, in part because it guides the work for a certain period of time. It may or may not end up as the final title of the published book.’Love’, as you can imagine, has been an incredibly inspiring working title and has guided and reminded me to write from the heart. This has been invaluable, in part because I am writing about a number of personally traumatic events in the memoir. But in the process, I have discovered a greater compassion for myself and others.

What else is new? Apart from making real headway with the forward thrust of the main narrative, I have also attended to some restructuring. Without giving too much away, I had a mystical/spiritual experience over ten years ago which has always stayed with me. Originally  I had described this experience about a third of the way into the memoir. However, that quiet intuitive voice, which we all have if only we would listen to it (!), advised that it would be better right at the beginning of the memoir. So this is how, at present, my memoir opens. And I feel the memoir, as a whole, is so much better for it. Without going into too much detail, it frames the whole work beautifully and honours this sacred experience.

Reflecting on this period in my life and this particular experience has made me reflect on the nature of ESP experiences in general and how they are often perceived by others. It has taken me some time to accept and honour those times in my life where I have perceived and experienced a reality that transcended this one. And I am talking about intoxicant-free extra-sensory perception and experience. Some of these experiences are related to the passing of people close to me. Some experiences have served to warn and protect me from the negativity and ill will of others. Other experiences have served to protect me from myself. I’m not sure why these ESP experiences happen to me but I do know that if I ignore or discount such experiences, I do so at my peril.

I think psychic ability and a heightened intuitive sense can manifest to different degrees and in different ways for many people. Some people may be lucid dreamers, others may experience angelic visitations, visions, or sense the presence of people who have died. In the past, I have felt wary about sharing these experiences with certain people. Many people’s world view is defined strictly according to the perameters of science and what their five senses tell them. In Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg, an eighteenth century Norwegian visionary and Christian mystic writes:

‘Further, the body’s visual organ, the eye, is so crude that as everyone knows, it does not even see the smaller elements of nature without a lens, much less things that are above the sphere of nature, as are all the realities of the spiritual world.’ (76)

I guess you could say that researching Swedenborgian ideas about the spiritual world and the afterlife has influenced my memoir. So too have Buddhist ideas, including the Three Jewels and maps of the afterlife chronicled in texts such as The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. But because many Swedenborgian ideas resonate with my own intuitive take on things, it feels like I’m rediscovering what I already know. He was a Christian reformist and often very critical of mainstream Christianity. He was also very inclusive of other world faiths. He believed that Heaven and Hell were states of mind. That Hell was a deep-rooted opposition to love and that all angels were once people. I leave you with the  sublime Among Angels by Kate Bush.

 

Is There a Dark Side to Creativity?

‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.’ Pablo Picasso.

As a writer and someone who is training to be an actor, I value creativity. I generally see its bright side and think  it can bring a sense of personal fulfilment, improved mental health and an experience of ‘free-flow’ where one is in a focussed yet relaxed state of being. I feel this particularly when I am acting and in communion the with other  actors and the audience.  I feel fully alive.

According to Mazlov’s hierarchy of needs, creativity is up there at the top of that pyramid and is a path to self-actualization. Julia Cameron, author of The Artists Way would go so far as to see creativity as divine. ‘Creativity is God energy, flowing through us, shaped by us, like light flowing through a crystal prism.’ A little hippy for my taste but I get where she’s coming from! And I think, generally, as a society, we are  enchanted by creativity . For many people, creativity is a new way of finding solace in an imperfect world in which religion no longer offers such conditions. (Gammel 1946 The Twilight of Painting)

However, I have on occasion wondered whether there is a dark side to creativity. For myself, I recognise the potential for workaholicism and perfectionism when it comes to my own creative pursuits. But when one is intrinsically motivated and rewarded in creative endeavour it is difficult to know where to cut off or when the job is done. Having written my second novel, Pharmakeia, which centres around a creative temptation, I have also reflected on the moral or ethical dimension to art and creativity. I am aware that this is a huge topic but I would like to offer some of my initial thoughts on the dark side of creativity or, as some have called it, ‘negative creativity.’

Creativity and Mental Illness

I think it is fair to say that there is stereotype of the artistic genius. But is there a genuine link between creativity and mental illness? Of course ‘creativity’ is a broad concept but if we were to look at just mental health and the ‘arts’ there is some research to suggest that mental health is lowest in people who work in this field. My experience at the University of Exeter bears this out. The university counselling service was jam-packed with drama students! And of course writers such as Woolf, Plath and Hemingway committed suicide whereas artists such as Van Gogh and Goya or musicians such as Beethoven  are reported to have suffered from depression, bipolar disorder and breakdowns. But are such famous artists representative? Or is there something about  being an artist and delving into the unconscious and into areas that most people would wisely leave be? Do modern-day artists have shamanic status? And who is to say society in general is sane? As Thomas Szasz says, insanity is a sane reaction to an insane world.

Creativity and Addiction

Of course, many artists are not addicted to either drugs or alcohol. But there may be an increased likelihood of becoming an addict if one has artistic leanings. To a certain extent, artists do have an outsider status. They often challenge the status quo, go beyond convention and offer new ways of seeing things. Drugs similarly offer the user new perceptions and ways of looking at the world, particularly hallucinogenic drugs. They are also illegal which might provide an additional allure to an artist of a rebellious nature. The 27 Club is a term that refers to a number of popular musicians who died at the age of 27, often of drug or alcohol abuse. They include, of course, Jim Morrison, Cobain and Hendrix. But perhaps childhood trauma and/or the pressures of sudden fame also played their part in some of these artists early deaths.

The Creative Personality Type

‘It is the creative person we need most to fear.’ (Graham Greene)

There is some recent research that suggests creative people may be a little more dishonest, arrogant and distrustful than other members of society. One could argue for example that the criminals who committed The Great Train Robbery showed a great sense of ingenuity which is a key component of creativity. And, I guess, if one is on the margins of society, or is challenging the conventions and morality of society, one is more likely to be distrustful. And for some highly creative individuals perhaps there is a sense of going against the crowd which could lead one to become more eccentric, criminal or even pathological. The allure of darkness may even manifest in an attraction to Satanism or occult practices. Robert Mapplethorpe, for example, is well know to have dabbled in Satanism and the occult. When interviewed for a documentary about Mapplethorpe, his former lover, Jack Fritscher, said, ‘Not to put Mapplethorpe down, but Satan, to him, was not this evil monster. Satan was like a convivial playmate.’ Then there are other artists or writers like Ted Hughes, Crowley or H P Lovecraft who were similarly interested in the occult.

My own opinion is that nothing is inherently good or bad, light or dark. It is our intentions or how we use things that matters. Mankind has shown immense ingenuity and creativity in the field of technology. We have the invention of the World Wide Web and nuclear power for example. Then there is the GTS satellite system that has given rise to App culture. But whether this technology is harnessed for the power of good or bad depends on the intention of politicians or other groups in society that would make use of such technology. Whether creativity is used for good or bad also depends on one’s beliefs and core values, Creativity does not exisit in a moral vacuum or beyond a historical or cultural context. I would also argue that artists do have a role to play in exposing injustice, inequality and habitual ways of seeing the world. However, perhaps past creativity can block future creative projects. As an artist, after some time and with a conventional degree of success, perhaps it is easy to fall into the trap of being formulaic and therefore conventional! And perhaps it is also easy to fall into the trap of creating from the ego rather than the Self. There is a lot to be said for getting out of the way of oneself before one creates…

Next week’s blog post will be an update on my forthcoming memoir.

‘The Flying Bull’ theatre company’s short film, ‘Lippy’.

This short film, ‘Lippy’, produced by ‘The Flying Bull’ theatre company, centres around the character of a homeless person. The screenplay was written by Timothy Graves and directed by Penelope Maynard. Director of Photography and Editor, Giles Webb, Directing Consultant and Acting coach, Robyn Moore. Music by Airacuda.The cast are as follows: Timothy Graves (The Professor), Eva Mashtaler (The Girl), Karim Jabri (The Boyfriend), Sue Ruddick (The Kind Woman).

The film was shot in Holborn and Covent Garden in central London and focusses on the issues of homelessness and environmentalism although the short piece is character driven. Part of the brief was that the film be no longer than 5 mins long and that it could be shot not far from The City Lit Institute where all five actors of ‘The Flying Bull’ are studying for a professional diploma in Acting. On the actual day of filming we were upstaged rather by an actual homeless guy, James, who initially would not move from where we wanted to film. However, it was not long before we persuaded James to join in and take part in some of the filming which he thoroughly enjoyed.

In writing the screenplay, I was inspired by a scene in the Mike Leigh play ‘Career Girls’, when the two female characters, many years later, accidentally bump into a friend and flatmate from university. Only the friend, who had suffered from some mental health issues at university, is now homeless on the streets of London. In ‘Lippy’, it is one of the professor’s students that recognises the now homeless professor. The flashback scene, set at Manchester university, is necessary to highlight how drastically both the professor of botany and the student’s lives have changed.

I hope you enjoy ‘Lippy’. It’s out first short film and we certainly had fun making it!

 

 

How Meditation Can Help Enhance the Creative Writing Process

‘A mind too active is no mind at all.’ (Roethke)

I have been practicing Buddhist meditation, on-and-off, for nearly twenty years. I was introduced to two meditation practices – the ‘Mindfulness of Breathing’ and the ‘Mettabhavana’ (the cultivation of loving kindness) – at the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green. I have also been on a number of Buddhist retreats here in the UK and went on a Vipassana retreat in Rajasthan, India, some years ago. And this week I attended Rigpa, the Tibetan Buddhist Centre in London to listen to two talks given by Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche.

In the last month or so, I have got back into the practice of meditating early each morning before I cycle into central London for rehearsals on Jim Knable’s play ‘Saltimbanques’. I feel calmer, have more patience and generally feel more at peace and happier. It has also given me the opportunity to reflect on how meditation can specifically help the creative writing process. Here are some of my thoughts…

1. Meditation encourages ‘divergent’ thinking. Divergent thinking, as opposed to convergent thinking, generates creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, ‘non-linear’ manner. I personally find the post-meditation phase, the best time to write. I may have been puzzling over a particular character or part of the story for some time and meditation has provided the conditions that have resulted in mental clarity and that perfect gem! It’s always good to have a notepad handy!

2. Meditation can help with writer’s block and procrastination. After meditation, one’s mind is calmer and one seems to achieve one’s goals more effortlessly. Hindrances, such as restlessness, doubt or sleepiness will arise in any one meditation session. Overcoming such hindrances in meditation will help one overcome hindrances and difficulties in life generally and, if you are a writer, obviously in the field of creative writing.

3. Meditation will make you a better person and therefore a better writer. Compassion and the development of wisdom is at the heart of Buddhist meditation. As writers, we are, of course, dealing with the human condition. A person who is more empathic, wiser and more compassionate is better able to write about the difficult, challenging, and often traumatic situations we humans often find ourselves in. What is the point of art without much heart? Or art without much insight into the human condition?

4. In our daily lives we are saturated in narrative: films, books, gossip, newspapers etc. We are continually telling ourselves stories about our own lives. And even stories about those stories. As someone who writes stories, and tells stories as an actor, I find it refreshing, on a daily basis, to enter into a story-free zone! The spaciousness of Mind, baby! Paradoxically, I am a better story teller for it! Perhaps, in part, because meditation creates more space in your head and more awareness. A chaotic monkey-mind ,continually chattering away, is not really conducive to creating a story of any depth.

5. Meditation, particularly practiced in a Buddhist context, gives one perspective on the events in one’s life or the events one is creating in a work of fiction. I am currently working on a memoir and am finding that meditation and the Buddhist world view is helping me to see things from a more spiritual perspective.

6. Meditation can help with resistance to what Dorothy Parker calls ‘the art of applying the bum to the seat’.

7. There is a lot to be said for getting yourself ‘out of the way’ before you create anything. Buddhist mediation, slowly but surely, diminishes the power of our attachments and the clamouring voice of our own ego. Your voice, as a writer, will therefore be more aligned to what Jung refers to as the ‘Self’ and the overall vision for whatever you are writing will be greater.

8. Establishing a daily meditation practice requires discipline, particularly in the beginning. So does writing. If you meditate you are less likely to make up excuses not to write. And when you write, you are likely to be more productive.

9. Meditation can help to quieten that voice of the Inner Critic which can be so detrimental to creative writing, particularly in the early stages of a piece of work. We begin to feel more centred and confident in ourselves generally and are also therefore less likely to be adversely affected by negative criticism from others when our writing is eventually published. Or that’s the idea anyway!

10.  Meditation develops focus and concentration but in a relaxed way. This state of ‘free-flow’ is likely to continue some time after meditation – so get writing!

How to Write a Succesful Memoir.

 

‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.’ Maya Angelou

As many of you will already know, I am currently in the process of writing a memoir. The current working title is Love. I have wanted to write this memoir for some years but, until recently, it has proved too painful. Now time has passed, I feel I have some distance and perspective on certain traumatic events. So far, I have found the writing process both cathartic and healing. And my hope is that I may be able to help people who have gone through similar situations to myself. I am nearly half way through my first draft, and, having previously written two novels, have been reflecting on the process of writing both fiction and memoir. Here are some of my thoughts on how to write a successful memoir:

  1. Remember memoir is not autobiography. It is important to select your theme and focus. Is your memoir a ‘coming of age’, ‘spiritual quest’ or ‘confessional’ memoir? Does it focus on the theme of bereavement, addiction, divorce or any other subject matter? What part of your life does it focus on?
  2. The management of time is important. Events do not necessarily have to be written in chronological order. Feel free to move beyond the linear narrative structure. You may, for example, decide that you wish to switch back and forth between time frames. I recently read an excellent memoir focussed on the theme of drug addiction, Portrait of an Addict as a Yong Man, by Bill Clegg. In his memoir, Clegg switches back and forth between the present day narrative, where he is struggles with an addiction to crack-cocaine, and a narrative based around key events from his childhood.
  3. One does not need to be overly concerned with the ‘voice’ of the character as one does in fiction. Memoir is a truthful personal account written in the first person. You already have the ‘voice’ of the character. It is you! Just dig deep and get visceral!
  4. It’s possibly a good idea to change the names of some of the people in your memoir to protect their privacy. It’s also important to bear in mind that no one really wants to read a memoir which is about getting even with people who may have hurt you. Where it is appropriate, one should include an honest appraisal of the part one has played, however small,  when writing about painful events from the past.
  5. It is important to be rigorously honest. Memoir is based on real events that happened to you. People who read your memoir will expect these events to be based on truth. One breaks this essential pact with the reader at one’s own peril.
  6. However, when writing dialogue, for example, it is unlikely you will remember, word for word, what your father said to you when you were ten years old. Even in this area of writing though, it is important to remain truthful to the essence of what was said in conversation.
  7. Memoir is not fiction but it still needs a ‘character arc’ and a ‘narrative arc’. What have you personally learnt from the life experience you are writing about? How has it changed you? When thinking about the narrative arc to your memoir, it may be useful to reflect on the seven basic stories that Christopher Booker writes about in The Seven Basic Plots. Why We Tell Stories. Is your memoir, for example, structured along the archetypal storyline of a ‘quest’, a ‘voyage and return’, or an ‘overcoming the monster’? Perhaps it is a good idea to have a ‘beginning point’ and an ‘end point’ in mind.
  8. I have found that I can use my skills as a novelist when writing memoir. This certainly does not mean I am making it all up! However, it does mean that I am able to carefully craft and construct the writing and employ effective dialogue, scene description and sensory detail to bring the writing alive.
  9. Build in time for personal reflection concerning events that have happened. This is your chance to offer nuanced observations about life and the world. However do not be too heavy-handed with your pearls of wisdom and write huge chunks of text about what you have learnt. Rather, sprinkle your insights sparingly. The end of a chapter might be a good place to reflect on what has happened to you but obviously this should not become a set rule!
  10. Remember, writing a memoir has a huge personal pay-off. The process can be immensely cathartic and healing. Overcome your fears (and I have encountered many so far en-route to writing Love) and you will be rewarded with a greater sense of understanding about past events and a greater self-awareness. Get published, and you will offer valuable insights and wisdom, often gained at great personal expense, to others.

hand of fatima

 

 

The Emotional Marathon of Writing a Novel

I thought it might be a good idea in this post to talk a little about the writing process for Pharmakeia. It took a little longer than anticipated but then I was teaching full-time for most of that period. I also ended up meeting a version of that untoward antagonist, Jean-Baptiste, in my own life ( a case of life imitating art, perhcance!). However, metaphorically speaking,  I bravely stepped out of the car wreckage – that was the result of that particular encounter – (wasn’t it Churchill who said when you’re in hell you just keep going..) and stoically carried on to publication. But more about that car crash when the memoir eventually gets published..

In a previous post, I mentioned that the short story, ‘Bright Fire of Morning’ (published in The Mechanics Institute Review 8) was the springboard for my novel ‘Pharmakeia’. I seem to remember reading somewhere that amongst writers this is quite common – for a short story to propel one into writing a novel. For those of you who haven’t read ‘Bright Fire of Morning’ (which is a reference to Lucifer – that angel who was ‘hurled headlong from the ethereal sky’ Milton), the story deals with a sex hook-up with rather sinister, supernatural undertones. Suffice it to say, there is also a grandmother in BFoM, as there is in Pharmakeia, and, as in Pharmakeia, she also appears right at the end.

 

          I paused for a moment. His eyes were more than blood-shot this time. They’d begun to bleed and in the corner of the hallway an older man, a hologram of red and purple light, gave a knowing smile.

          ‘Get off me!’ I struck a blow to his head and down he went. Then summoning all my strength and with sheer bloody-mindedness, I pushed down hard on the handle that refused to budge, hell-bent on opening that door.

           And there she stood, bathed in white light, a picnic basket replacing her stick, looking right as rain.

I often reflect on both endings, not only because of the similarities, but also because my only remaining grandmother, died on Christmas Day a few years ago. Again, without meaning to sound trite, it feels like another case of life imitating art. It also makes me reflect on the difference between the male characters and the female characters I have portrayed in both ‘Bright Fire of Morning’ and ‘Pharmakeia’. One could argue that in both pieces, it is the female characters who are the most endearing.  In ‘The Seven Basic Plots’, Christopher Booker, makes use of Jungian archetypes to outline what he believes are the universal and essential characters in any given narrative. I sometimes wonder whether Jean-Baptiste, Daimon Mount-Stuart and Christiano would fall into Booker’s category of the ‘Dark Masculine’. Of course they do! In the same way that Gran, Candy, and to a certain extent Caroline in ‘Homo Jihad’ could be considered to fall into the category of the ‘Light Female’. But, returning to the idea of the ‘Dark Masculine’ does their author,(moi!) and indeed a sizeable portion of the population, tend to fall for a bit of a bad boy? Perhaps…

 

But back to the matter in hand – the writing process. It took me roughly a year to write the first draft of ‘Pharmakeia’. Some people call this stage a ‘word vomit’. Indeed I think it was William Faulkner who said,’ Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.’   I agree. I think many artists, whether writers, actors or painters, often have a strong Inner Critic that tends to get in the way. And the way to manage your Inner Critic? Tell it ‘Not now. I’m working!’

However, for me, the ‘word vomit first draft’ thing is going perhaps a bit too far. I am still aware of the style I am writing in at this stage of the writing process but also focussed on getting to the end. I must say though, I wasn’t quite sure how things would end for Mahvand in Pharmakeia. And perhaps this ‘not knowing’ allowed for better storytelling. I often remember one piece of advice from a brilliant tutor on the Birkbeck MA in Creative Writing course I did a few years back: It’s better if you feel slightly out of your depth when writing fiction. I guess you could say not knowing how things might end is feeling a little out of your depth/comfort zone! And if truth be told, part of how things end in Pharmakeia, are down to certain insights I had whilst parking my bum on my meditation cushion each morning during that period! And – as Dorothy Parker says, ‘art is applying the ass to the seat.’

I do think though, if you are writing a novel, you need something that will continue to inspire for at least a few years. After all, it’s an emotional marathon! I was interested in exploring the theme of temptation whilst writing ‘Pharmakeia’ and there was more than enough mileage/emotional charge there to keep writing! I certainly never got bored whilst writing it – perhaps a little guilty but never bored. (I remember, when describing some of the blasphemous pieces of conceptual art in Pharmakeia, that I had crossed a line) But where would avant-garde theatre or literature be if artists were constantly afraid of crossing that line.

In terms of how to structure a novel, I know there are some writers out there who plan meticulously. They have an outline for every chapter and plot things out on graphs. This approach has never worked for me. I tend to have a basic idea and go for it. Although, I must say, that I do have a rough idea for the trajectory of my novels. And there are certain scenes which I call ‘set pieces’ which, by hook or by crook, will form the backbone of the novel. So, for example, in Pharmakeia, I knew from the outset that I wanted a big, fuck-off club scene. Hence the chapter, ‘Kaos’, with it’s cray-cray, carnivalesque atmosphere. I also knew that towards the end of the narrative there would be a scene detailing Mahvand’s opening night for his debut exhibition. The latter scene required a trip to White Cube gallery and a meeting with Sophie, Head of Archives, which was most informative! I think this approach to writing fiction is best summed up in E L Doctorow’s assertion that, ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.’ I think I prefer this more intuitive way of writing fiction for several reasons. To begin with, I tend to operate in a more intuitive way out in the Big Bad World. But I also like surprising myself – allowing the creative process to create the magic. Of course, I know it’s me at the end of the day – but this emphasis on ‘allowing’, I feel is key. This approach, for me, feels as if it prepares the ground for a state of ‘creative free-flow’. I’m focused yet relaxed and I certainly don’t notice time passing. Before you know it you’ve channelled all sorts..

After the first draft was completed I began the editing process. Whole chapters, which slowed the pace of the narrative, or just didn’t add much to the overall picture, were got rid of. This was the stage where I paid even more attention to the language and style I was writing in. The prose may come across as effortless but I can tell you I wrote and rewrote many passages several time. After the first major edit I sent my manuscript off to The Literary Consultancy in London. Sally O-J, Sarah Walters personal editor, wrote a full-length report, which when I first read it, took some time to digest! However, it was extrememly useful getting an outside eye. Thus began another major edit – this time focussing on the balance between the humour and the dark stuff! Sally got the whole hybrid genre thing but she was right in pointing out that I needed to readdress the balance of light and dark/ humour and supernatural shenanigans at key moments of the narrative. I also made efforts to make Mahvand’s character slightly darker earlier on. This last major edit took about 6 months. I then got the text proofread and responded to recommendations made concerning spelling, punctuation, grammar and any narrative inconsistencies. Then the text was formatted beautifully by Kristen Harrison at The Curved House publishing company. So yes – a lot of work! But worth it – although slightly worrying. I read somewhere recently that each novel becomes part and parcel of your DNA..so entwined is one…

And if you haven’t purchased a copy – why not? They are available of course from Amazon bookshops such as Foyles and Gay’s The Word in London.

I finish with a few more quotes about writing:

‘A writer without interest or sympathy for the foibles of his fellow man is not conceivable as a writer.’ (Joseph Conrad)

‘Writing is its own reward.’ Henry Miller

‘The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.’  (Anon|)

‘Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the backyard and shot it.’ (Truman Capote)

 

 

 

 

YBA’s and Conceptual Art

 

Pharmakeia is set in the iconic year of 1997, when Tony Blair came to power with Nu Labour and Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris. The late nineties were when conceptual art really took off in the UK. ‘Sensation’ was held at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1997, exhibiting the contemporary art of Charles Saatchi. Yong British Artist, Damien Hirst, exhibited his shark suspended in formaldehyde solution, entitled ‘The Physical Impossiblity of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’. Another YBA, Tracey Emin, exhibited that infamous tent, ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With’, and Marcus Harvey’s ‘Myra’ (a portrait of child murderer Myra Hindley) was also on display.

The penultimate chapter of ‘Pharmakeia’ takes place at White Cube gallery, then situated in Duke Street, St James. It was famous for curating artists with international appeal and YBA artists. This, of course, is where Mahvand exhibits his shocking and blasphemous pieces of work, including a fibreglass statue of Christ being buggered by a shepherd’s crook. It was important that the works of art were transgressive as they were the culmination of Sex Magick practice. (Read the book!) Although there were plenty of transgressive or blasphemous pieces of art at the time, including Andres Serrano’s ‘Piss Christ’ and the Chapman Brothers ‘Fuck Face’.

 ‘Piss Christ’ by Andres Serrano

In some of these pieces of art, and indeed the pieces of art conceived of between Mahvand and Jean-Baptiste, one could argue that it is the collision between the profane and the sacred that provokes or outrages, depending on one’s sensibilities. One could also argue that it is this artificial division between the profane and the sacred, the body and the spirit which is harmful. After all, if God is not in the bedroom, where is she? Up in the clouds..? Whether the Christian Church is partly responsible for this splitting or simply reinforced it, is a matter for debate..

But to return to ‘Pharmakeia’ and White Cube gallery, I must say what a joy it was to meet up with Sohphie Grieg, then Head of Archives at White Cube, one afternoon. She talked about the vibe of White Cube back in the nineties and showed me numerous photographs of celebs who would visit – The Pet Shop boys, Janet Street-Porter, Jarvis Cocker etc. Some of these have cameos in the White Cube chapter of ‘Pharmakeia’. She made me realise how small the old White Cube was and filled me in with details such as the tradition of drinking bottles of beer, and not champagne, at YBA events!

However some of what happens in that infamous chapter is down to ‘poetic liscence’! The roof to the real White Cube was reached, apparently, via someone’s flat.. I thought this would be a tad too comical, so Mahvand just climbs a few flights of stairs before he reaches the roof.

 

 

 

 

 

Pharmakeia: the Impetus & the influences:

Pharmakeia took longer than I anticipated to complete. It all started out as a short story (which I published as ‘Bright Fire of Morning’ in The Mechanics Institute Review 8′. You could say that this short story served as a springboard for writing ‘Pharmakeia’ the novel. In both, I was interested in the theme of temptation. Don’t we all listen to the ‘bad angel’ at moments when we know that we shouldn’t? And ignore that quiet voice of conscience?

I wanted to construct a narrative around this theme so started reading novels and watching films that portrayed Satan. I remember thinking at the time this was all a bit transgressive but, as I am wont to do, threw caution to the wind! Indeed one particular scene from Bulgokov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’ provided the inspiration for ‘Forked Tongue’ – chapter one in my novel. There was something fabulously theatrical and ‘carnivalesque’ about it all…

Films, such as ‘The Devil’s Advocate’, ‘Angel Heart’ and ‘The Ninth Gate’, similarly provided inspiration for the creation of my antagonist – Jean-Baptiste, although, admittedly none of these devils spoke French or were nowhere near as good-looking as JB!

Similarly, I researched Alistair Crowley and sex magick which helped me write the final sex magick scene where Jean-Baptiste transforms into a Sabbatic goat and Mahvand experiences moments from previous incarnations.. For me, it was important that Mahvand transgressed both creatively and sexually.

 

 

 

Pharmakeia – Copy-editing & Positive Feedback

Pleased to announce that the whole manuscript has been copy-edited. Richard Sheehan has done a great job. Just responding to his suggested edits – there are a lot! – then it will be sent to Kristen et al at The Curved House, based in Berlin, to be typeset. Richard was very complementary: ‘ I very much enjoyed your work and definitely think there’s a market for this sort of novel, as seen recently by releases from Galley Beggar Press, such as ‘Randall’ and ‘How to be a Public Author.’ Having read ‘Randall’ I take this as a real compliment 🙂